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[MELBOURNE] Political pressure, conflict of interest and government intrusion are among the barriers encountered by science journalists around the world.

Those were the remarks made at the opening session of the 5th World Conference of Science Journalists, which opened in Melbourne, Australia this week (17 April).

More than 600 science journalists from 50 countries are attending the week-long event.

SciDev.Net correspondent Jia Hepeng spoke about the problem of propaganda-based science journalism, citing it as one of the main factors limiting effective science communication in China.

"Science journalism has mainly been used to boast about the government's achievements and hide bad news," said Jia. He said there was pressure on science reporters to deliver the official government line, to the detriment of public interest.

The lack of science coverage was also a concern, he said, largely due to the Chinese media's failure to capture the public's imagination. 

"Discussion or debating about science policies and the impact of science on society is lacking in China," said Jia. He cited a lack of information on the achievements of China's manned spaceship programme — launched three years ago — as an example of this.

"There are no meaningful questions [asked about] what the key national science and technology programmes have brought to people's lives," he said.

Chris Mooney, a North American science journalist and author of the book The Republican War on Science, highlighted the difficult relationship between science and politics that has developed during George W. Bush's presidency.

In the United States, the scientific community has clashed with the government's moral viewpoints on issues ranging from climate change to evolution, stem cells and cloning.

Mooney said both scientists and journalists have had to adapt to new rules to cope with this.

"In this context, translating scientific knowledge is today more crucial than ever," he said.